We got this
I guess I’ve been doing an emergent series on the “super man” topic for a while, begun with Looking for a hero, a bit in Striking twice, some day, The true stalwart, and Super, thanks for asking. I’ve been reading Strong Female Protagonist, by Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag, for a long time, but in re-reading those listed posts, I realize that the travails of Alison Green are possibly the single most pointed commentary around.
(Yes, more so than Miracleman, at least to me. Sorry …)
It’s tough to write about SFP though. This post has gotta avoid getting enmeshed in current perceptions of the title and its comments community, to focus strictly on the text. Funny how that very problem seems endemic to the “super man” as hero … the degree of identification and over-interpretative perception involved is huge, as if the character on the page were instantly replaced with the reader’s projection, and therefore the dialogue becomes a matter of competing projections, to focus on what or who the character “is” outside of text (readers of the blog know I’m becoming a foe of that “is”), and to over-determine what any current storyline must be about, or should do, to remain faithful to the “is.”
But you see, there I go too, becoming over-invested in “what people are saying about it” and opening myself up to that same competitive/control dialogue. What’s this title, again, and what happens in it?
Alison Green is at the far end, perhaps the top end, of superhuman power in the first generation of “powers” in this particular fiction. There is no prior history of superheroics or villainy, and everyone so affected is relatively young. Throughout most of the world, people with such abilities more-or-less integrate into their societies; in the States, comics fandom or celebrity culture or both contributed to a more dramatic “secret identities” and “saving people” context. Alison is the one who called bullshit on it, revealed her identity, retired her ‘career’ as Mega Girl, and is trying to do good and be good in the world, with her powers.
The story makes no bones about the limitations of her views, some of which are front-and-center as the dramatic cores for each chapter, and some of which are there for observation, without preachy highlighting or direction of what the reader is supposed to agree with or to critique. The limitations come in two types: (i) her prior views and embedded experience as a public and very comic book-y superhero, which she actively seeks to deconstruct; and (ii) her cultural background from a financially-secure, well-adjusted, generally happy family. (I think the term these days is “privilege.”) In a lot of ways the former set is easier for her to think her way through and to try to resolve than the latter.
There’s a lot of weight in the stories, too much to summarize. Superficial reading would put her as the sunny and “whatever she just knows is right is right” Mary Sue heroine, but the actual plots and outcomes seem to me to say over and over, no, the comic-book context for “doing good” with your powers and mask is – if not wrong – definitely insufficient. And that again and again, going with her gut to say what’s right turns out to be more about her tendency to assume that, as Mega Girl (because she can’t and emphtically doesn’t just put her powers away), she can beat the situation into submission. The stories are all about the times when no, she can’t.
It’s easy to focus on her interaction with other super-powered people who’ve deconstructed their initial mask-and-reputation identities, like the uber-infamous supervillain who retired much like she did, the savage and rapid-healing bad-ass crime-fighter who figured out what helping people would really mean, and the former teammate who’s become a serial-killing vigilante. But I like to focus too on her ordinary-people interactions, in which – at least as I see it – she often gets jerked around by others’ simple presence and priorities as emotional, social human beings. Sometimes she finds a way through it, and other times she doesn’t.
I especially like the current story as of this writing, titled only “Chapter 6” and starting here. I’m even taking the risk of writing about a completely contemporary work because I have total faith in the creators to nail it hard (and probably in a way no one expects) based on every story to date. I’d appreciate it if you took the time to check it out, if you don’t follow this title already; you don’t need much if any knowledge of the prior stories to address what I’m talking about.
Basically, this story starts with her arriving at what she thinks is a working moral code, coming straight out of her family’s values and her intense desire for all humans to live together in a mutualistic community. (Alison is very much a “mean people suck” thinker, and that pretty much everything would work out if we all just settled down and were nice.) The code is, we got this. That if we pull together as we, if we address ourselves to it in good faith, then what to do, and how, will emerge and will bring us all to a better situation. For a bit there, it seems as if she’s found some ways to live this.
Until the past couple of weeks as of this writing, in her confrontation with a professor (she attends the New School) who, unlike a previous instructor who had quite malevolently (if understandably) attempted to use his position to humiliate her, is actually teaching her something important. Or might be; as I say, the storyline is current so who knows how this’ll go.
Readers’ view differ, to say the least, but my reading is that Alison is grossly unprepared to tackle anything like “what is my moral code” – in fact, frighteningly so, as to her, disagreements or even a proposed counter-view (as opposed to a held one) are very nearly direct and threatening attacks. There’s an earlier scene when a non-American teleporter appears for entirely innocent reasons, and she instantly attacks him, because “that’s what you do to teleporters, you have to disorient them.” When she discovers he’s not a villain bent on mayhem, just a guy who happens to be able to teleport and happens to be a close friend of the person she feels she’s the friend for here, she resents him. The situation here is similar – faced with an active-learning, off-balance teaching approach, she interprets it solely as humiliation – a power-struggle. Alison has deeply confounded starting as the designated hero with doing heroic things, and despite really, really trying to get her head on straight, has run face-first into this conundrum more often than she’s solved.
This is a big deal. It’s tied hard to the issues I’ve been working out, perhaps in a slight fog of my own, in the posts I’ve listed, because Superman, for example, is taken as given as doing good – and yet actually seeing that happen without (i) super-coincidence playing the primary role and (ii) no discernible problem beyond “bad guy! get’im!” in play is very hard to find.
Links: Strong Female Protagonist
Next: Scary heroes